Women Who Go the Distance

Swapping the UN and World Cups for a Mountain Lodge and Wineland Farmhouse

by Prisca Llagostera
Kokos Photo by Elsa Young / courtesy of Kokos Huis.

Women Who Go the Distance is our series spotlighting women in the travel industry we admire. Like Prisca Llagostera, who we first met on a Zoom call during the pandemic to learn about L’Ovella Negra, her mountain lodge in Andorra. (It sounded like an ideal place to escape the madness of the world.) In the time since, she launched another hotel, Kokos Huis, in the Western Cape wineland in South Africa, making hers quite the trans-hemispherical commute. We wanted to know how she does it.

Tell us about Kokos Huis.

Kokos Huis, my second hospitality project — the first is L’Ovella Negra mountain lodge in Andorra — came about because I fell in love with a winemaker and found myself living in Swartland, just outside Cape Town, South Africa. It started when I visited Cape Town for a friend’s wedding and met a gorgeous winemaker. I had what I thought to be a holiday romance — until he showed up at my doorstep in Andorra the following week. The rest is history.

We got married two years later, and I had to find something to do in my new home. I stumbled upon a rustic, 200-year-old property in need of some love and saw beyond the structure and envisioned what it could be: Kokos Huis.

Tell us about Swartland.

Swartland, the small region just outside Cape Town, is a tight-knit community off the beaten track. Once you get to know the area, you unlock magic. Small, family-run establishments are peppered throughout, but it’s the wine — and its makers — that are the lifeblood of Swartland. I fell in love with the region over 5 a.m. braais (barbecues) in the vineyards and pizza nights at Kalmoesfontein winery.

The Swartland is raw, beautiful, and authentic. Dusty roads, bakkies (pick-up trucks), and a fun bunch of young winemakers and young entrepreneurs make the place. They all produce artisan wines, true to the terroir and full of personality. At the center is the town of Riebeek Kasteel, a quaint little place with tons of restaurants and an international community who add to the Swartland melting pot. It’s a special, hidden community — and it's only an hour away from Cape Town.

How did you become a hotelier?

I’ve wanted to own a hotel since I was eight or nine years old, but the pathway to get there was not linear. I studied International Relations in London and worked at the British Foreign Affairs Ministry in Andorra. When I was 22, I went to New York City to work at the Permanent Mission of Andorra at the United Nations. That was an incredible experience, but I needed something more hands on, dynamic, and challenging.

I spent a few years traveling as a ski instructor between Andorra, Argentina, and Chile, working at global events — rugby world cups, ski world cups, the London Olympics — while managing a small ice hotel in Andorra. That was fun and challenging! And my master. One definitely learns how to work under pressure: The hotel had to be built as soon as snow fell, and it slowly melted toward the end of the season.

After three years, I decided I wanted to continue working in hospitality — though maybe at a hotel that stayed put, and one where I could light candles and a fire in without worrying about the whole place melting. Within a few years, I met my current business partner, and L’Ovella Negra was born.

Photo courtesy of L'Ovella Negra.
Photo courtesy of L'Ovella Negra.
Photo courtesy of L'Ovella Negra.
Photo courtesy of L'Ovella Negra.
Photo courtesy of L'Ovella Negra.

What's a typical day like?

I wake up and have my cup of tea in bed before activating, sipping as I scroll through my phone. Then I head out to work: a 45-minute walk through the woods when I'm in Andorra or a drive when I’m in South Africa. I use this time to do phone calls. Once I get to work, I first check out the hotel, then have a bite before opening my computer and getting to work. Depending if I'm in Andorra or South Africa, my work is more or less intense.

When I’m home in the Swartland, I walk my Rhodesian Ridgebacks Lennie and Rocco through the vineyards with my husband, then have a lovely meal with him while trying one of his new wine blends. In Andorra, where work is much more intense — I run two restaurants as well as the lodge — I generally end my day with my great friend and manager over a caña (beer), sitting outside in the end of the valley.

How do you design a good hotel?

The way I look at hotel design is heavily influenced by my family. I have a half-English and half-Andorran background: It’s all about creating spaces for people to gather. Traditional hotels focus on the individual component of the hospitality experience, but the magic for me lies in creating multi-purpose spaces that let you enjoy being a couple or a rowdy groups of friends.

It’s also about making sure the basics are there — good beds, fluffy towels, crisp sheets, nice amenities, good ingredients — and that it is all pleasing to the eye. The basic ingredients must then be topped up with soul, music, books, candles, and the human aspect.

Prisca and her husband sharing something tasty. Photo courtesy of Prisca Llagostera.
Prisca and one of her pups. Photo courtesy of Prisca Llagostera.
Photo by Elsa Young / courtesy of Kokos Huis.
Photo by Elsa Young / courtesy of Kokos Huis.
Photo by Elsa Young / courtesy of Kokos Huis.
Photo by Elsa Young / courtesy of Kokos Huis.
Photo by Elsa Young / courtesy of Kokos Huis.
Photo by Elsa Young / courtesy of Kokos Huis.
Photo by Elsa Young / courtesy of Kokos Huis.
Photo by Elsa Young / courtesy of Kokos Huis.

What’s the connection between Andorra and South Africa?

On the surface nothing at all, but Andorra was my first love and home and South Africa is my second.

I never anticipated that I’d fall in love with a nice winemaker in Swartland (one of the top natural winemakers, if I do say so myself!) across the world, but now that I have, I can’t imagine it any other way. My projects have one big thing in common: They are located off the beaten track in remote parts of each country. Clearly I’m not a city girl at heart!

What are some of the hotels, restaurants, and spaces that inspire you?

Hotel Alaia in Pichilemu, Chile, for its remoteness and wildness.

Sussurro in Mozmbique for its location, remoteness and aesthetics.

La Granja in Ibiza (sadly now closed) was a huge inspiration for me, as was Stamba Hotel in Tbilisi for its music, interiors, and vibe.

Rochelle Canteen in London and all its little natural wine bars, Boia De in Miami, and, of course, L’Ovella Negra in Andorra.

How do you define good hospitality?

Comfortable spaces, attention to detail, welcoming feeling, and smiles, lots of smiles!

Photo by Elsa Young / courtesy of Kokos Huis.
Prisca Llagostera. Photo courtesy of Prisca Llagostera.

And now a speed round: The Fathom Questionnaire

Favorite destinations: Mexico and Miami.

Dying to visit: Lamu in Kenya, Colombia, and San Igancio in Uruguay.

Bizarre travel rituals: Change of clothes in my carry bag, and ALWAYS send a message with whoever I have had a fight with or misunderstanding!

Always in carry-on: Aforementioned change of clothes.

Concierge or DIY? Do it myself — with all the info from the concierge.

See it all or take it easy? At first I see it all, then I decide where or what I would like to spend more time on.

Weirdest thing seen on travels: A wheel (like the London Eye) which was turned by humans jumping from one cabin to another in Bombay. That was hardcore. The risk of life…

Favorite childhood travel memory: London with my family. All the musicals, museums, window dressings, Regent Street at Christmas, Covent Garden, Soho. The whole of London at Christmas is still magic.

My favorite hotels are Ammos because of the person behind it, its food, and beach. Alaia because of its wilderness. And Sussurro because of its aesthetic and people.

Everywhere I go, I check out the hotels, special shops, and restaurants.

When I arrive in a new place, I learn the lay of the land by spotting what I think will be my fave places.

I always bring home carpets, way too many carpets!

I travel for the pleasure of feeling something new (people, architecture, feeling, smells, ambience, etc) or remembering something old. I love to go back to places I once went to ages ago to see how I now view it and how it has evolved.

For travel inspiration, we asked Prisca to design a perfect trip to South Africa.

Speaking of inspiration, here are a few more Women Who Go the Distance.

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.